July 6, 2011

Falmouth planners delay decision on Walmart's proposed expansion

Disagreements about design issues remain and residents oppose a plan to relocate a bus stop.

By Dennis Hoey dhoey@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

FALMOUTH — Walmart presented a plan Tuesday night for expanding its store on Route 1, but fell short of getting the town approvals it needs to remove the adjacent movie theater and clear space for its project.

Falmouth Planning Board members and Walmart's team of architects and engineers disagreed on several design issues, including the expanded building's architectural features and the height of its exterior lighting.

Residents objected to Walmart's plan to relocate a Metro bus stop from the store's entrance to Clearwater Drive, saying the move would make it difficult for disabled shoppers to use the bus.

Board members agreed that they will need at least one more meeting before they reach a decision. Postponing the decision for another month will also give Walmart time to refine its proposal.

"I don't believe anyone on this board is ready to vote this tonight," said chairman William Lunt III.

Late last year, Walmart announced its plan to expand its Falmouth store to include a grocery store and a garden center.

Falmouth's Senior Planner Ethan Croce said Walmart wants to expand into space now occupied by Regal Cinemas, which operates 10 movie screens.

The proposed expansion from 92,000 square feet to 124,000 square feet calls for the cinema to be demolished, which would leave Portland's northern suburbs without a first-run movie theater.

But on Tuesday, the developer who has been talking for several months about opening a theater in downtown Freeport confirmed that the Nordica Theater will open by Thanksgiving.

Al Yebba, chief operating officer for Berenson Associates of Boston, said plans for a six-screen cinema in Freeport Village Crossing are still on track. Croce said Walmart will not be able to begin building its project until October.

In the meantime, Planning Board members said, Walmart has a lot of work to do if it expects to get approval.

One area of contention is the store's rear wall, facing the Falmouth Ice arena complex. Lunt said the town's design standards require that the wall have distinctive architectural features – he did not specify what those would be.

"It would look like a warehouse" as proposed, Lunt said. "If we don't get something, I think it's going to be a tough sell for this group."

Board members also said the light fixtures can be no more than 20 feet tall in the town's village zone. Walmart is proposing fixtures 25 feet tall, which would require fewer light poles.

Bonnie Rodden, a town councilor, urged the board to move cautiously.

She objected to moving the bus stop and to the number of proposed curb cuts along Route 1. Those curb cuts, she said, would increase the likelihood of accidents.

"Whatever decision you make is going to have a dramatic impact on Falmouth for a very long time," Rodden said.

 

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: dhoey@pressherald.com

 

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